A deployment as large, complex and lengthy as the Canadian Afghan Mission is made up of many moving parts. Kinetic activities like complex operations, the conduct of mounted and foot patrols, fire fights, mine clearance, forward operating bases, observation posts and training all require substantial and reliable support elements.

Canadian Military Engineers

PAO CF Combat Camera

Since ancient times, military engineers have shaped the physical environment to allow friendly forces to live, move and fight in the battle-space and to deny the same to the enemy. Despite the evolution in its contextual character, the nature of warfare has remained constant. In that light, the Canadian Military Engineer (CME) doctrinal role in Afghanistan remained extant. Military engineers are masters of the terrain with the ability to understand, visualize, portray, advise on, protect and shape the battle-space to meet the commander’s needs. The challenges associated with the Afghan theatre of operations mandated that the CME fulfill all aspects of its broad mandate of providing mobility, counter-mobility, survivability and general engineer support.

Ubique, as the CME motto states, means that military engineers were everywhere, with CME members being an integral part of most mission elements. Comprising combat engineers, construction engineers, geospatial engineers, and firefighters, CME organizations in the form of the Battle Group’s Field Squadron, the Counter-IED Squadron, the Construction Management Organization, the Specialist Engineer Team, the Engineer Support Unit, and the Joint Task Force’s Engineer Regimental Headquarters unfailingly supported the Canadian Armed Forces and its allies to conduct operations across the spectrum of conflict.

Upholding a proud history, often at great cost, the Canadian Military Engineers adapted to the harsh conditions of this war and acquitted themselves with distinction in Afghanistan.

LCol Mark Gasparotto, ACOS CME

The Royal Canadian Artillery in Afghanistan

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In January 2002 Canadian gunners deployed to Afghanistan with 81 mm mortars, a BC’s TAC HQ, Forward Observers, and a nascent FAC capability as part of the 3 PPCLI Battle Group.

In August 2003 gunners, equipped with 105 mm LG-1 howitzers, ARTHUR weapon locating radars, and SPERWER UAVs joined the 1900 personnel of Operation ATHENA in the Kabul region.  Notable gunners during this period included: (then) Major-General Andrew Leslie, Deputy Commander of ISAF; (then) Colonel J.G.E. Tremblay, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade; Colonel M.D. Hodgson, Commander NCE/Deputy Commander OP ATHENA; and, (then) LCol J.S.S.D Fortin, G3 of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade.

In February 2006, under the auspices of Operation ARCHER, Canada deployed to Regional Command (South), principally in the Province of Kandahar.  Batteries, over 200 strong including significant reserve gunner augmentation, were equipped with the brand new 155 mm M777 ultra-light weight towed howitzer and a wide variety of munitions including the precision EXCALIBUR projectile.  They also brought the Lightweight-Counter-Mortar Radar and HALO Sound Ranging System to the fight, and replaced the SPERWER UAV with the SCAN EAGLE.  This period included most notably Operation MEDUSA (2-17 September 2006) – the first major combat operation led by a Canadian since the Korean War and saw the guns of the RCA fire thousands of rounds in support of this operation alone.

Gunners also contributed significantly to the Provincial Reconstruction Team.  Then Lieutenant-Colonels Chamberlain, Hetherington, and Dalton all commanded the PRT, while numerous gunners filled other key positions including CWOs Boivan and Rusk who served as RSM.  Additionally gunners of all ranks played their role in directly advising the Afghans on the front lines as part of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT).

Gunners were also present in the Task Force HQ, with Colonel’s Lacroix and Hetherington serving as Deputy-Commanders; Lieutenant-Colonels Dame, Doyle, Fortin, Dalton and McGarry as Chief of Staff; Lieutenant-Colonels Young and Hammond as J5; and Lieutenant-Colonel Bishop as Chief of Operations.  Gunners also provided the full suite of Brigade level coordination centres and staff for Air Space Control, STA, Fire Support and Effects, and filled numerous general and joint staff appointments.

Within Regional HQ gunners also occupied key staff and senior NCO appointments. Col C. Ross served on staff and CWOs M.L. McDonald and J.R.G. Moretti served as the Sergeant-Major for RC (South).  CWO D. Moyer served as the Sergeant-Major for Brigadier-General Karl McQuillan of the 1st (US) Cav Division in RC (East).  In 2009, (then) Brigadier-General J.G.E. Tremblay returned to assume the post of ISAF HQ Official Spokesman in Kabul.

In December 2011 the CAF departed southern Afghanistan and reverted to a training and advisory role centred on Kabul under the auspices of Operation ATTENTION. Gunners made many notable contributions to this mission as well.  Colonels L.H.P.S. Boucher and I.A. Miezitis served with the Ministerial Advisory Group, while Colonel P.J. Williams commanded the Kabul Military Training Centre.  The Deputy Commander of the final rotation was Colonel L.J. Hammond and the Task Force Sergeant-Major was CWO E.P. Smith.  Additionally gunners fulfilled key roles such as Task Force J3 and J5, force protection, and as advisors in the Consolidated Field Centre (CFC), where LCol R. Moon served as its COS and CWO M. Provencher its Sergeant-Major.

Gunners achieved many accolades for their service in Afghanistan.  Most notably, (then) Sergeant D. Bérubé and Master-Bombardier A.D. Holmes were awarded the Medal of Military Valour.  At the time of writing eight were awarded the Meritorious Service Cross with one officer, (then) Colonel S.C. Hetherington earning this prestigious award twice.  An additional 17 individuals were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, and 11 gunners were awarded the prestigious Mention in Dispatches. 23 Gunners were awarded the CDS Commendation, with some dozen gunners being recognized by various foreign decorations including the U.S Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal.

The RCA’s operations in Afghanistan were not without cost.  Eight gunners lost their lives including: Bdr Karl Manning, Sergeant Kirk Taylor, Bdr Jérémie Ouellet, Gnr Jonathan Dion, Capt Jeff Francis, Bdr Myles Mansell, Lt William Turner, and Captain Nichola Goddard, MSM, the first female combat arms soldier killed on operations.  Many gunners continue their recovery to this day and some will be forever disabled.

In Afghanistan, the gunners of the RCA lived up to its motto of Ubique, serving in every capacity: from front line combat, to command and staff, and humanitarian work.  Without doubt they lived up to the standards established by their predecessors in Korea, Normandy and at Vimy.

Colonel L.J. Hammond, MSM, CD, Deputy Commander, Canadian Contribution to the Training Mission in Afghanistan (CCTM-A)

Edited by Major M.J. Draho, CD, Regimental Major of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery

The Canadian Forces Health Services Group

(excerpt from Starlight Afghanistan

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Throughout our long and proud history, the Canadian Forces Health Services Group (CFHS) has supported numerous missions and operations around the globe, most recently the significant contribution to the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan. This brief summary has been borrowed from the introduction to the book, Starlight Afghanistan, which tells the story of the deployed health service men and women, starting with Roto 0 in Kabul.

This initial deployment as well as all other subsequent Roto’s in Kabul, was part of the Canadian Forces contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. The Health Service Support unit, based in Camp Julian, was classified as a Role 2 health services facility within the overarching NATO health service plans for the Kabul area.

In October 2005, the overall CF operational plan changed dramatically. This change in mission was highlighted with the teardown of Camp Julian in Kabul and the move to Kandahar Airfield (KAF). Roto 1 became the lead nation of the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit until October 2009. Under the Canadian Forces Health Services command, the R3 MMU developed the reputation as one of the best trauma hospitals in the world.

Despite the transfer of overall operational command authority from Canada to the U.S. in October 2009, Canada still continued the tradition of providing excellent care to the fighting troops and civilians injured in the course of military operations. This support included Provincial Reconstruction Teams, mentoring the Afghanistan National Army and Police forces and Forward Operating Bases.

During our mission close to one thousand Canadian Forces Health Services personnel and civilian contractors deployed and provided exemplary healthcare, saving the lives of Canadian soldiers, coalition members, and Afghan civilians.

Salt Water and Sand – The RCN and Canada’s Afghanistan Mission

Captain C.P. Donovan, RCN, Director of Naval Strategy

Photos courtesy of Combat Camera

Photos courtesy of Combat Camera

Few would ever view Canada’s mission in Afghanistan as being your typical naval operation or envision sailors deploying to a land-locked country.  But from the earliest days after the events of 9/11, the Royal Canadian Navy was put to task in a mission that was very much about sea power, navies and sailors. A navy’s strength lies in its agility to respond to events and the flexibility of employment it affords Government.

In the hours immediately following Canada’s decision to deploy forces in support of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, HMCS Halifax, already at sea with NATO’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic, is ordered to detach and proceed to the Arabian Gulf region.  Soon after, a four-ship Canadian Task Group deploys from Canada – the first Coalition task group to arrive in the “Gulf”.  HMCS Vancouver also deploys, as an integral member of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Battle Group, a manifestation of the close Canada/US security partnership.

In less than two months, Canada surges 25% of its navy into the expansive Arabian Sea region – putting sea power at the forefront of a long and complex mission. This at-sea component of the Afghanistan mission reflected the raison d’être of naval forces – controlling the use of the sea so as to project power ashore, protecting strategic lines of communications for materiel and denying the use of the sea to the adversary.  In this light, HMC ships provided protection to the USN BATAAN and PELELIU Amphibious Ready Groups inserting the first main US ground forces into Afghanistan, as well as USN aircraft carriers launching strike and close air support sorties.

Canadian ships also escorted and protected vessels ferrying materiel into the region.  As the mission expanded, Canada’s naval forces were tasked to interdict Al Qaida/Taliban leadership at sea and to disrupt their funding networks by interdicting contraband smuggling.

When Canada had Task Groups deployed in theatre, Canadian Commanders led Combined Task Force -150 multinational forces to ensure maritime security and counter terrorism.  This rapid and then extended effort was enabled by the experience and relationships developed during the routine peace-time deployment of HMC ships to the region during the 1990s.

Beyond this steady employment in the Arabian Sea littorals and Indian Ocean, more than 1300 RCN sailors deployed ashore into Afghanistan, augmenting each ROTO.  Whether it was to provide specialized support in logistics, intelligence, public affairs or force protection, naval personnel brought needed skills to the joint fight.

Senior naval leaders were also deployed to mentor and advise Afghan government officials as members of Canada’s Strategic Advisory Teams or fill key leadership roles within the NATO Training Mission (Afghanistan) and ISAF HQ structures, as Canada took on its substantial training commitment to the Afghan National Army and Police.  Worthy of specific mention was the steadfastness and bravery put forth by RCN clearance divers who were relied upon to protect both Afghan and Coalition forces, as well as Afghan civilians from the scourge of IEDs – a mission for which Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Blake paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2010.

In all, the contribution made by all these individuals served to demonstrate the leadership, flexibility and professionalism that defines every member of the RCN. While Canada’s mission to Afghanistan is over, the role played by the RCN in the region will continue for years to come.  In support of this mission, the entire RCN surface combatant fleet has deployed, with the exception of one ship, representing some 32 ship-crew deployments to the Gulf region by mid-decade, and more will surely follow – a testament to an institution that prides itself on being Ready Aye Ready.

Chaplain Branch  Chaplains have always had an integral part to play during the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) overseas missions. The CAF Chaplaincy is characterized by an interfaith/multi-faith structure, where each chaplain is called on to do the following:

  • Minister to their own;
  • Care for all; and
  • Facilitate the worship of others.

In Afghanistan, alongside their traditional role as religious leaders – leading regular worship, saying prayers at dedications, ramp ceremonies and other religious rites, providing appropriate sacramental ministry in camp or at Forward Operating Bases, as well as pastoral care and counselling – CAF chaplains also minister to various units under their care while deployed, offering what is termed a “ministry of presence.” This is done by walking unit lines, visiting far-flung detachments, accompanying troops on patrols, attending briefings, and participating in unit physical training, celebrations and other significant events.

CAF chaplains met with local mullahs (mayors/leaders) and imams (clerics) in order to coordinate humanitarian aid distribution and to promote religious and cultural understanding so that tensions might be eased and misunderstanding assuaged during operations.  The importance of cross-cultural understanding cannot be overemphasized, and here, our chaplains played an outsized role.

During operations in Afghanistan, the chaplains’ responsibilities also included being advisors to the commander on the complexities of the religion within its area or sphere of operations, and working closely with the other deployed advisors, a group of officers that typically includes social workers, personnel selection officers, and public affairs officers. Afghanistan, though, is not hermitically sealed; all deployed chaplains must as well liaise with rear party chaplains back home in Canada.

CAF chaplains often worked side-by-side with other International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) chaplains; together, they would meet, plan, pray and lead worship services.  While resources were limited and spiritual demands on deployed chaplains remained high, the sharing of resources and chaplains with Canada’s ISAF partners allowed for mutual support between the CAF and its allies in the provision of religious and spiritual efforts. Every day, our soldiers faced fear, death, grief, anger, poverty and corruption, but even in these circumstances, CAF chaplains were able to provide a ministry of presence and respond to their unique needs.

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The Lifeblood of the Task Force:  Combat Service Support Written by LCol Devon Matsalla in March 2014

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The story of the war in Afghanistan could never be told without acknowledging the outstanding contribution of Combat Service Support (CSS) soldiers:  those who sustain the personnel, materiel and commodities required to conduct operations.

CSS includes all trades of the Logistics Branch, who are involved in the replenishment and support of forces along the entire supply chain, from Canadian industry right up to the front lines.  Logistics trades include Ammo technicians, Mobile Support Equipment (MSE) operators, Supply technicians, Traffic technicians, Resource Management Support (RMS) clerks, Postal clerks, and Cooks, who provide that essential support to allow the forces in combat to accomplish the mission.

CSS also includes the trades of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (RCEME) Corps, who are focused on the maintenance and repair of all types of equipment in theatre.  RCEME trades include Vehicle Technicians, Electro-Optics Technicians, Weapons Technicians and Material Technicians, who provide that essential equipment support to allow forces to move, detect, fight and survive on the battlefield. CSS soldiers are required to work in the shadows and in combat zones, repairing, fueling, feeding and moving the combat force so that they can accomplish the mission. However, the cohesion among CSS soldiers is among highest, as they are in constant demand, with many jobs always in queue.  As the work is very technical, communications are essential from the front lines back to the main camps and then all the way back to Canada.  These technical networks allow the technicians to access the expertise and advice of higher lines of support, but it also builds strong relationships between technicians everywhere.

These relationships that you read about in these stories have been essential to the success of operations. Over the twelve years of operations in Afghanistan, the CSS community has overcome some of the most significant challenges in its history and has grown immensely as a result.  The harsh Afghanistan environment, combined with the rapid pace of technology, has caused the RCEME and Ammo Technicians to create new technical processes in their procedures and resiliency in their approach to problem solving.

The fact that Afghanistan is a land-locked country, with no sea- or rail-ports of entry, created a significant workload for the movement and supply personnel, who had to support air operations into the Kabul International Airport and the Kandahar Airfield.

The great distances over which forces were deployed generated high expectations of MSE operators, who drove thousands of kilometers every day over precarious roads laden with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  Also, Cooks, RMS clerks and Postal Clerks would come to be appreciated as significant combat multipliers, as they had a direct impact on the morale of the troops.  Finally, perhaps most importantly, all CSS technicians have had to prove the importance to be soldiers first, able to fight to defend themselves in the face of adversity. As you read the stories of these CSS soldiers, I invite you to reflect on the importance of their contribution to the success of the mission, and to the improvement of the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.

LCol Devon Matsalla deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2007 as the Operations Officer of the National Support Element.  He returned to Kandahar in 2009 as the Technical Liaison Officer.  He is a RCEME Officer that currently commands 5 Service Battalion in Valcartier, Québec. 

Le sang qui coule dans les veines : Les services de soutien au combat

Écrit par le Lcol Devon Matsalla en mars 2014 L’histoire de la guerre en Afghanistan ne peut être racontée sans reconnaître la grande contribution des soldats des services de soutien au combat (SSC) : ceux qui soutiennent le personnel, le matériel et les commodités nécessaires pour supporter les opérations.  Le SSC inclut tous les métiers de la branche de la Logistique, qui sont impliqués dans le ravitaillement et le soutien des forces tout au long de la chaîne d’approvisionnement, de l’industrie canadienne jusqu’à la ligne de front.

Les métiers logistiques incluent les techniciens de munitions, les conducteurs de matériel mobile de soutien (MMS), les techniciens d’approvisionnement, les techniciens de mouvement, les commis de soutien à la gestion des ressources (SGR), les commis postaux, et les cuisiniers.  Le SSC inclut également les métiers du Corps du Génie électrique et mécanique royal canadien (GÉMRC), qui font la maintenance et la réparation de l’équipement de toute variété au théâtre.  Les métiers GÉMRC incluent les techniciens de véhicule, les techniciens électro-optiques, les techniciens d’armement et les techniciens en matériaux, qui fournissent le soutien essentiel à l’équipement qui permet aux forces de bouger, de détecter, de se battre et de survivre sur le terrain de bataille.

Les soldats SSC travaillent souvent dans l’ombre et dans les zones de combats, en train de réparer, ravitailler, nourrir et transporter les forces de combat afin de permettre à celles-ci d’accomplir la mission.  Cependant, la cohésion entre les soldats SSC est parmi la plus élevée, car ils sont en demande constante, avec plusieurs tâches en attente.  Comme le travail est très technique, il est essentiel que ces soldats puissent communiquer de la ligne de front jusqu’aux camps principaux, et ensuite jusqu’au Canada.  Ces réseaux techniques permettent aux techniciens d’accéder à l’expertise et aux conseils des échelons supérieurs, ce qui bâtit des relations fortes entre tous les techniciens.

Ces relations dont vous allez lire dans ces histoires ont été essentielles au succès des opérations. Au cours des 12 années d’opérations en Afghanistan, la communauté SSC a relevé les défis les plus importants de son histoire et, comme résultat, a beaucoup grandi.  L’environnement austère de l’Afghanistan, combiné avec la vitesse de la technologie, a incité les techniciens GÉMRC et les techniciens de munitions à créer des nouvelles techniques dans les procédures et de la résilience dans leur approche à la résolution de problèmes.

Le fait que l’Afghanistan soit un pays enclavé, sans aucun port maritime ou ferroviaire, a créé un défi significatif pour le personnel de mouvement et d’approvisionnement, qui a dû supporter des opérations aériennes très chargées dans l’Aéroport international de Kabul et l’Aéroport de Kandahar.  Les grandes distances sur lesquelles les forces ont été déployées ont forcé les conducteurs MMS à conduire des milliers de kilomètres tous les jours, sur des routes précaires chargées de dispositifs explosifs de circonstance (DEC).  Aussi, les cuisiniers, les commis SGR et les commis postaux ont été appréciés en tant que multiplicateurs de combat, car ceux-ci ont eu un impact direct sur le moral de la troupe.

Finalement, et peut-être le plus important, est que tous les techniciens SSC ont prouvé l’importance d’être des soldats d’abord et avant tout, aptes à se battre et se défendre face à l’adversité. Au fur et à mesure que vous lirez les histoires des soldats SSC, je vous invite à réfléchir à l’importance de leurs contributions au succès de la mission, et à l’amélioration des Forces armées canadiennes dans son ensemble.

Le Lcol Devon Matsalla s’est déployé à Kandahar, en Afghanistan en 2007 en tant qu’officier des opérations de l’Élément de soutien national.  Il est retourné à Kandahar en 2009 en tant qu’officier de liaison technique.  Il est un officier GÉMRC qui commande présentement le 5e Bataillon des services du Canada à Valcartier, Québec.

Combat Camera

OP ARCHERCombat Camera tells the story of the Canadian Armed Forces through imagery. Their goal is to ensure that the Canadian public and our international audiences have easy multichannel access to quality imagery that showcases the activities of the Canadian Armed Forces around the world and here in Canada.

The Canadian Forces Combat Camera (CFCC) Team is a 19 person deployable strategic level photographic and video imagery acquisition and distribution asset. Its primary mission is to enhance the Public Affairs capacity of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF) through the collection, processing, distribution, and management of imagery depicting Canada’s Armed Forces at work, both in Canada and around the world. The material acquired through its operations facilitates both current internal and external Departmental and Government of Canada communications objectives, as well as the future imagery requirements of multiple audiences as they pertain to a ‘historical’ record of Canadian Armed Forces’ activities.

To accomplish its highly specialized mission, CFCC works closely with other CAF imagery assets and also maintains its own continuous elevated personnel and equipment readiness levels. CFCC’s high readiness elements must be able to deploy on less than 12 hrs notice, and to operate in any environment in which the CAF may be called upon to serve. The Team must remain abreast of industry standard electronic news gathering (ENG) trends, external consumer needs, as well as internal operational planning cycles.

Canadian Armed Forces Intelligence Contribution to the Afghanistan Campaign 

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The lowering of the Canadian flag in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 12, 2014 has resulted in a time for us all to recollect on the critical contribution that Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) intelligence personnel had in that country over the course of a decade. There was little indication in the months and days prior to September 11, 2001, that the CAF would become deeply involved in the deployment of troops and intelligence effort, surpassed in Canadian history only by the commitment to the Second World War. Over the span of 14 years, the CAF’s intelligence function evolved in both personnel and capability, ultimately resulting in a truly joint intelligence collection and all-source analytical effort. This garnered considerable praise from both national and allied leaders. Initial intelligence contributions to Canadian operations in Afghanistan were relatively modest as they were established with little warning in order to address the immediate commitment by the Government of Canada to the global war on terrorism. Under the overall Canadian contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Apollo, intelligence support was provided to the naval contingent deployed in the Arabian Sea, the Royal Canadian Air Force elements based at Camp Mirage, Dubai, and the 3 Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Battle groups (BG) and Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) assets deployed in Kandahar province. In 2003, the Canadian military effort focused towards Kabul and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Once again, various CAF intelligence organizations were intimately involved in supporting operations. Highlighting this effort was the creation of the All Source Intelligence Centre (ASIC).  The ASIC would become the benchmark for all-source analytical intelligence production and dissemination for the remainder of the Afghanistan campaign.  Furthermore, the deployment of the ASIC in Kabul saw the first regular integration of enablers such as Meteorological, Geospatial and Counter-Intelligence (CI) personnel.  In addition to traditional land based collectors, the Kabul deployment included the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), an additional asset dedicated to providing a greater intelligence picture.  As well, intelligence Reservists were deployed with the ASIC which significantly enhanced the overall intelligence function while providing an invaluable level of professional expertise to our Reservists for future operations.  The ASIC also included the use of civilian analysts from various directorates and units of the Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI); now known as the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command (CFINTCOM).  Some of those analysts repeatedly deployed with the ASIC and other Canadian intelligence elements throughout the Afghanistan campaign, all the while fully integrating themselves with their military counterparts in the production and dissemination of all-source intelligence products. Throughout the Canadian mission in Kabul, the ASIC and Canadian intelligence elements of the higher ISAF Headquarters and CANSOFCOM were essential in providing Commanders with timely and actionable intelligence. These elements rapidly become a prime source of highly reliable intelligence for the ISAF contingents throughout the city and beyond.  Furthermore, CFINTCOM and its dedicated support elements such as the Afghanistan Intelligence Response Team ensured continuous strategic support to the deployed elements through the close interaction with our national and allied strategic partners. In 2005, the focus of the Canadian deployment once again changed, this time to Kandahar, where the ASIC and higher command Canadian intelligence elements provided intimate support to an increasing number of battle group size combat operations. These intelligence organizations also provided national leadership with the threat picture both at tactical and operational levels. All of the enablers in the ASIC were continually adapting in size and capability in order to address the shifting nature of the threat. The relentless tempo of operations, the continual addition of assets (eventually including tactical aviation and enhanced UAVs), and the mounting demand for timely and relevant intelligence resulted in an expanded footprint and increased contribution to the overall efforts of both national and ISAF operations. Although the Canadian intelligence footprint reduced considerably following the cessation of combat operations in 2011, the contribution continued as the focus of the Canadian involvement shifted back to Kabul under Operation Attention.  A small contingent of intelligence officers and operators continued to provide the Canadian training staff with the intelligence and situational awareness necessary to achieve mission success until the last day of the Afghanistan commitment on March 12, 2014. The intelligence effort was instrumental in ensuring that Commanders at all levels were afforded information superiority in support of their operations.  Consequently, the significant and steady demand of intelligence by Commanders, both national and allied, was a catalyst for the increased footprint of various intelligence organizations in theatre; a footprint that began with a dozen individuals and grew into the hundreds at the height of Canadian combat operations in Afghanistan.  Throughout the campaign, intelligence personnel, both officers and operators, were able to process a staggering amount of information at levels previously unheard of. Furthermore, these personnel successfully produced an actionable, all-source analytical product that was essential to both conventional and unconventional operations, ultimately saving Canadian lives.

Going Full Throttle into a New Era: The RCAF Experience in Afghanistan

Photos courtesy of Combat Camera

Photos courtesy of Combat Camera

Canada’s Air Force was involved in the international campaign against terrorism from Day One. When the Prime Minister announced in October 2001 that Canada would contribute air, land and sea forces to the international coalition, HMCS Halifax – with its embarked CH-124 Sea King helicopter – joined the coalition fleet soon after. Within a few short weeks a CC-150 Polaris deployed to support the mission, and two CP-140 Aurora deployed before the end of 2001 to deliver reconnaissance and surveillance support to maritime coalition forces. Three CC-130 Hercules then joined the fight, transporting personnel, equipment and cargo between destinations in the theatre of operations in early 2002.

From 2002 until the closure of Camp Mirage (Canada’s support base in the Persian Gulf region) in 2010, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircraft logged over 22,000 flying hours in over 4,500 missions, and carried over 78,000,000 pounds of cargo and over 244,000 passengers in support of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. During Canada’s 12-year engagement in Afghanistan, half of the RCAF’s fleets participated in operations aimed at helping Afghans rebuild their country.

As the mission evolved, so did the Air Force’s participation. In addition to transporting personnel and cargo in and out of theatre, the RCAF also became an integral part of the fight on Afghan soil. In July 2006, a Hercules began delivering supplies to troops by airlift – the first such resupply mission conducted since the Korean War (1950-1953). The airdrop supported some 10,000 Afghan and coalition troops deployed in Helmand, Zabul, Oruzgan and Kandahar provinces, and demonstrated the importance of air power to mission success in Afghanistan.

Recognizing the need for additional air power support in Afghanistan, Joint Task Force Afghanistan Air Wing (JTF-A Air Wing) was formed in Kandahar in December 2008. The Air Wing was the first Canadian air force formation of its size and type deployed to an area of armed conflict since the Second World War. Its mandate was to control all RCAF aircraft arriving in, and departing from, the theatre of operations, to provide critical air combat, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support, and to provide strategic and tactical air lift support to Canadians and their allies operating in Southeast Asia.

The establishment of the JTF-A Air Wing ushered in a new era in Canadian military air operations and underlined the importance of having an agile and expeditionary Air Force. It also underlined the importance of having the right equipment to do the job. The new CC-177 Globemaster III strategic airlifters were quickly incorporated into the RCAF and almost immediately began participating in strategic airlift operations in and out of theatre. The newly purchased D-model CH-147 Chinook helicopters made their debut flights as Canadian aircraft a week after being transferred to the Air Wing. With these six Chinooks, as well as eight CH-146 Griffon escort helicopters, six Mi-8 chartered medium-lift cargo helicopters, and leased CU-170 Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (which began replacing the CH-161 Sperwere UAV in early 2009), the Air Wing was able to offer an unprecedented mix of airlift, ISR, and tactical aviation support capabilities to Canadian and coalition forces in theatre.

The RCAF fed a vital, comprehensive battle picture to Army commanders on the ground, and contributed to the protection of soldiers’ lives from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines, and ambushes by reducing their reliance on ground-based transportation for moving personnel and cargo. Combat arms soldiers were incorporated into air crews to operate aircraft weapon systems. On the Chinooks, these systems were used for local protection and close defence, while on the Griffons they could be called on to protect troops on the ground as well as to ensure the safety of the Chinooks they were escorting.

This integration of air and land capabilities enhanced the combat effectiveness of the Canada’s military forces in Afghanistan and was an important enabler for the counterinsurgency campaign. Members of the Air Force who served in Afghanistan within the land-based Task Forces and within the Air Wing demonstrated flexibility and adaptability as they integrated new fleets and capabilities and participated in high-intensity multi-fleet combat operations. All Canadians can be proud of the operational versatility of Canada’s Air Force and the skill and perseverance of the men and women wearing the RCAF uniform. They fought bravely and intelligently, and ushered the RCAF into a new era of joint, integrated military air operations.

Lieutenant General Yvan Blondin, Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force

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